Dallas — The Greek goddess Diane, aka Dionysus, Bacchus or Liber, is fed up to Olympus with hyper-manicured lawns and toxic fertilizers, never mind the wholesale destruction of her beloved natural environment. What divinity charged with the propagation of wine, agriculture, fertility, theater and ecstatic dancing wouldn’t be offended by such suffocating tidiness?
In Madeleine George’s spirited eco-comedy Hurricane Diane, directed by David Fisher for Echo Theatre, the goddess descends to Earth from the heights of Olympus after a 3,000-year hiatus, incarnated as a butch landscape gardener (Cindee Mayfield) to stir up a little chaos and restore wild nature to its rightful place.
Seductive and funny in her plaid shirt and workman’s vest, Mayfield’s lithe, ornery Diane prowls on a mowed lawn fronting on a sterile white kitchen (perfectly appointed by set designer Kateri Cale), and explains her mission. Recalling the days when she got “100 percent participation” from eager Greek women drawn to her moonlit ecstatic, wine-soaked rituals, she bemoans today’s cramped version. “You started to settle for knock-offs,” she says, referring to the popular party drug. This goddess knows something about stirring up natural forces, and warns us that “the ultimate storm is on the way.”
Diane cuts to the action. Her plan is to recruit four acolytes to worship her and spark a revolution to restore virgin forests and pristine prairies. Specifically, she sets about seducing four friends living on a comfy cul-de-sac in suburban New Jersey near the Atlantic coast.
The show is filled with passionate outtakes on the lost first-growth forests and desecrated prairies that give the play its environmental urgency. (Disclosure: I’m an eco-gardener and member of two tall-grass prairie association.) The fun of the play is in the shifting mood of the interchanges between this handsome “permaculture gardener from Vermont” and the reaction of each woman to Diane’s master plan.
Elegant Angela Davis is the no-nonsense Carol, a tight-jawed blonde who hires Diane to plant color beds and install garden “decorative benches” like the ones she loves in the pages of her glossy garden magazine. “I like natural but neat,” Carol says, as she politely kicks Diane out of the kitchen when the gardener starts ranting about how she hates curbs because they “cut a deep gash in the flesh of the Earth!”
Whitney Holotik is the sweet, vulnerable Beth, the disgrace of the neighborhood since her husband left her and the lawn hasn’t been mowed in ages. Holotik’s Beth is pliant and touching in her response to Mayfield’s manly gardener. Beth wants “a fairy garden with mosses,” and is delighted by Diane’s suggestion to replant native flora, especially the “paw-paw tree with its big globular fruit.”
Stephanie Butler is hilarious as the chatty, pragmatic Pam, the housewife devoted to animal-pattern dresses and proud to be “full-blooded Italian on both sides.” Pam knows how to satisfy her man on the go, among other things, and wants Diane to create “a miniature Italian garden” in her back yard, in case she never gets to Italy in person.
Strident and sensual Octavia Y. Thomas dominates the stage in her scenes with Diane as Renee, a high-powered editor of the gardening magazine Carol goes to bed with. Turns out Renee totally loves paw paws and anything with globular fruit, for that matter. The mutual seduction scene is a funny spoof of marketing power versus nature’s power.
The force of the 90-minute play rises from the first-rate performances by Echo’s cast, as Diane pulls out all the stops and heats her newly converted priestesses to the boiling point. But what happens to those who resist Diane, this mash-up of an angry Mother Nature and a vengeful Greek god in women’s clothing? Therein lies the warning we heard at the outset, played out in surprising and shocking fashion.